1. EstherMayRose

    EstherMayRose Contributor Contributor

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    How can I Explain a Connotation in Natural-Sounding Dialogue?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by EstherMayRose, Mar 11, 2019.

    ...without saying it outright and sounding unnatural or info-dumpy?

    So I'm writing a short story set in a fictional country in the 1840s. A princess named Abigail is tasked with playing hostess to seven insufferable sisters from England, one of whom will become her sister-in-law. They're all very snooty and consider themselves above Abigail because England is a superpower with a large empire and Abigail's country, Cavallia, is a little strip of land that's always basically been in France's pocket. So one idea I had was that they could make fun of her name. "Abigail" was at that point out of use in England after the release of a very popular play all the way back in 1616, which featured an old, ugly, lecherous, and generally unpleasant servant called Abigail, which led to it becoming a slang term for "servant" as well as being associated with that character, so obviously a princess called Abigail would be a bit strange to an English person.

    But how can I get that into normal-sounding dialogue? I mean, they seem much too lofty to just come out and tell her, and I don't want it to end up sounding like an essay ("Here's some facts"). I considered having one of them ask if her sister's name was "Charwoman" (old word for "cleaning lady") but it seems a bit of a weak insult.

    Or am I just obsessing over nothing?

    Thanks in advance! :)
     
  2. Hammer

    Hammer Active Member

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    I suppose it depends what sort of a vibe you are going for, if it is fairly light-hearted/humorous could you have a babble of unattributed conversation from the spiteful seven.

    Lady Frou Frou stepped down from the carriage and kissed Abigail’s hand without wasting any effort to conceal the wiping of her lips on a cambric handkerchief.
    ‘What a delightful country,’ she said. ‘So Bijou.’
    ‘It is quite lovely,’ added one of the spiteful sisters. ‘It must take hours to dust?’
    ‘Darling, don’t be silly, Abigail doesn’t dust the country.’
    ‘She sweeps it?’
    ‘No darling, I mean, presumably she has people for that?’
    ‘But she’s an Abigail.’
    ‘Like in Sir Thomas Henley’s play?’
    ‘The prince and the seamstress?’
    ‘Something like that.’
    Abigail held her tongue and led the way to the palace gate. She wasn’t going to let these pompous sisters rile her, not today.
     
  3. XRD_author

    XRD_author Member Supporter

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    Best I can think of is that the play has been revived in England, and the part of Abigail is being played so well that it's international news. The sisters could then be discussing that, knowing Abigail would overhear them:

    "Did you read that article in the Times?" said Mary.
    "The one about Abigail?" said Sue.
    "Yes, they wrote was she horrid! And I have to agree. Why, it didn't take ten minutes until I was loathing her."
    "Oh, I as well," said Carol. "The actress was marvelous."
    "Actress?" said Sue.
    Mary smirked. "We were talking about the play we saw last week, weren't we?"
    They laughed.​

    Lame, but that's the idea.
     
  4. EstherMayRose

    EstherMayRose Contributor Contributor

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    So I was thinking about this a bit more, and drawing on @Hammer's theme, I thought of something like this:

    "Oh, what a quaint little palace. Surely it must take you hours to clean?"

    "Don't be silly, I'm sure she doesn't clean it herself."

    "Oh, I do apologise. I thought you said you were an abigail."

    Possible also comment about her appearance ("You look like an abigail."). But would the readers understand that an abigail is a servant or would they still be at sea?
     
  5. jannert

    jannert Member Supporter Contributor

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    Is Abigail your POV character? If so, she can reflect on this insult, if she knows what it means—and by reflecting on it, the reader will learn what it means. If she doesn't know what it means, but senses there is an insult being given, she can simply ask.
     
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  6. EstherMayRose

    EstherMayRose Contributor Contributor

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    Yes, she is. I didn't think of that. I'm smart sometimes.
     
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  7. Fallow

    Fallow Member

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    Have the visiting sisters enthusiastically request the play from a local drama troupe, then depict a description of the scene with the Abigail servant and the sisters eyeing and chortling at Abigail over their fans during the performance. I would do it with very little dialogue and mostly description of how the play unfolds, Abigail's initial positive reaction, the enjoyment of the audience in general and her dawning awareness of the sisters' intent. It could also be a more public embarrassment as other guests also smile and look at Abigail. Extra points if the actress/actor playing Abigail has some costume affectation that refers to Abigail - like a preference for a certain color hair ribbon, etc.

    I would do it this way because it avoids the direct confrontation of people being directly rude and gives you a complete scene that goes from good to bad for Abigail as the realization makes its impact, and allows her growing horror at the play to be a proxy for her real life.
     
  8. EstherMayRose

    EstherMayRose Contributor Contributor

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    That is absolutely amazing, I love it!

    Now I need to find a handy summary of the play.
     
  9. XRD_author

    XRD_author Member Supporter

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    Good luck, sounds fun.

    While it probably isn't true for you, @EsterMayRose, sometimes when I think up a thing like this, I spend too many words setting up what's really just a minor little gag. When I'm done, I'm very proud of my cleverness ... right until the moment I realize that this is one of those "darlings" people keep telling writers to kill.

    But that's just me.
     
  10. Fallow

    Fallow Member

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    I'm lifting it from Hamlet, but the POV has changed from Hamlet (sisters) to the King (Abigail).

    It need not be a long scene. It could be less than a page.
     
  11. EstherMayRose

    EstherMayRose Contributor Contributor

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    It fits in with the plot: Abigail decides to temporarily do away with ladylike propriety in order to get revenge on the sisters (April Fools' Day pranks with a bit of an edge, nothing sinister) and this could be the inciting incident, the moment she realises she can sit and grit her teeth no longer. Love it!

    But it does seem as though I'll have to read the whole play, because all I find is a tonne of articles about how popular it was, and no actual summaries.
     
  12. XRD_author

    XRD_author Member Supporter

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    If it was me, I'd probably get lazy and just make up my own version. Perhaps the company that put the play on for the MC altered it. I might even lampshade hang a lantern on that the play was altered ("Oh, was character X supposed to do Y? I thought they were the villian.") if I was worried people would call me on the inaccuracy.
     
    Last edited: Mar 17, 2019 at 3:20 AM

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